On Prohibited Persons

I came across this sad story on Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association forum. A guy seeking advise about renewing an expired PA License to Carry Firearms. Seems he got into a bit of hot water with the law, under this Pennsylvania law:

Title 18, Section 1.4(a) of the unconsolidated statutes.

§ 1.4. Altered or illegally obtained property; penalty.

(a) Alteration or destruction of vehicle identification number.–Any person who alters, counterfeits, defaces, destroys, disguises, falsifies, forges, obliterates or removes a vehicle identification number with the intent to conceal or misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part commits a felony of the third degree and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or a fine of not more than $50,000, or both.

That’s a felony. Clearly this individual must have been involved in some sort of criminal ring. Right? Well, here’s his story:

I bought 2 cars, one from maryland the other from new york. the person i got the maryland car from got it from an auction in deleware. He never transfered it to maryland and kept it for 3 years. I bought it brought it home and could not get the title transfered. tried contacting the auction house in deleware but out of buisness. so i could not get the title transfered. the newyork car was wrecked but had a good motor and interior. the maryland car did not. the vin was attached to the dash, not to the car it’s self. so when I replaced the maryland cars riped upi dash with the nice shiney newyork car dash the vin went with it cause it was rivited to the dash. you get the picture. I called everywhere to find out what to do and every dmv or berriks I called told me to call the other guy. so basicly I am screwed because state employees of pa,maryland and delaware don’t know the jobs. A victim of circomstance (i know my spelling is bad haha) that my luck.

So he installed the dash from one car into another, and forgot the transfer the VIN number. He got caught, and apparently some turd of a District Attorney decided to throw the book at him, either for the safety of society, or to bolster his legal career, I’m sure you can guess which one. The poor guy runs out of money to pay attorneys, and ends up getting pressured to cop a guilty plea in exchange for a year of probation. Only problem; no one advised him he was surrendering his firearms rights.

I am not opposed to the idea that people convicted of certain crimes of violence can have their right to own a firearm removed. But this whole incident illustrates why this idea has become a mockery of justice. This man was wrongly charged, was pressured to plead guilty by an ambitious DA who was more concerned with his conviction record than justice, and now has been screwed out of an important constitutional right.

Fortunately, he says he currently doesn’t own any firearms, which is good. I’d hate for him to twice be a victim of the justice system. If organizations like the Brady Campaign want to be serious about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and want us to stand with them, they have to condemn applications like this. Otherwise it’s just another means of harassment, and it’s wrong.

7 thoughts on “On Prohibited Persons”

  1. Can someone explain to me why, on earth, scratching out a VIN is worth seven years in jail and/or 50,000 USD in fines? I mean, at least with the drug war we can point out the resulting societal damage and general lack of willpower shown by those who get caught (and thus tend to result in said damages).

    But defacing your own property?

  2. It’s insane, but strictly speaking he probably wasn’t guilty of this, and shouldn’t have pled. This law requires intent to defraud, which would seem to be missing in this case.

  3. No, the law requires intent to conceal the identity of the vehicle or prevent identification; nothing about the concealment, deception, or prevention of identification being for personal gain. His phone calls would show that he new he was moving, and a reasonable person standard would know that the VIN was used to identify vehicles. The jury would have likely let him off, but it’d still be against the letter of the law.

    If he was unable to continue affording an attorney, he should have been able to petition for a public attorney. The financial requirements for a free attorney are fairly easy to pass through, especially on a felony conviction.

  4. I’ve seen this sort of matter discussed on the hot rod forums. If he had gone to the state early on, they probably would have been ready to work with him, but what he did was not worthy of felony status.

  5. Nah, never happened. That would be a miscarriage of justice and we know that no government entity would engage in that behavior.

    There are only good people in government who would never abuse their power. I heard it here.

  6. It’s done by car thieves and also by people who buy salvage title cars and then take vins from non-salvage vehicles and try to sell them for the full amount.

    Unfortunately it’s also done by ordinary people who aren’t legally astute or trying anything naughty.

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